What are Geckos?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Geckos are lizards in the family Gekkonidae. There are over 300 known species of geckos found distributed in the tropical and subtropical areas of the world, and these small lizards are incredibly diverse. Several species are kept as pets, such as the tiger gecko, and many more are often on display at museums and zoos which specialize in lizards, for people who are interested in seeing a gecko in person.


The name “gecko” comes from an Indonesian word, gekok, which is imitative of the distinctive cry that geckos make. Geckos are unique among the lizards because they communicate through vocalizations, using a range of chirps to exchange information with each other. In fact, in some areas of the world, the noises of geckos are considered to be a nuisance, as they can get quite noisy. Visitors to the tropics are often surprised to learn that the source of these sometimes astoundingly loud chirps is the humble gecko.

Members of this family have a another very distinctive feature. The four to five feet of a gecko, depending on the species, have very fine bristles which are tipped with suction-cup like structures. These bristles allow geckos to scuttle straight up walls, tree trunks, and other smooth surfaces, and they are a distinct advantage in hunting; in the tropics, geckos can often be found hanging out on the ceiling near lights, for example, waiting for insects to get close.

Most geckos have stocky, squat bodies, and some are able to regenerate their thick tails if they are injured. These reptiles typically lay eggs, and they are carnivorous, preferring small animals like insects to eat. Many geckos are brightly colored to blend in with the tropical environment, and some are actually able to change color to blend in with their surroundings, another advantage for geckos on the hunt.

There are a number of different types of gecko. The largest of the geckos is the tokay gecko, which also happens to be quite aggressive. Banded geckos from the American Southwest have claws instead of toes, while so-called flying geckos have flaps of skin which they can use to glide, living an arboreal lifestyle. The house gecko lives in homes all over the tropics, eating insects to earn its keep, and the gold dust day gecko can be found out and about during the day, a somewhat unusual state of affairs for a normally nocturnal creature.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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